Where the money goes in F1

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

Bernie Eccestone is at the centre of all things financial in F1
Bernie Eccestone is at the centre of all things financial in F1

A fearsome battle is brewing in F1 between Bernie Ecclestone – the man who has the biggest say in where money goes in the sport – and the teams, who want a bigger slice of F1’s revenues.

Money is always a hot topic in F1 as too little of the enormous revenues the sport generated are used to sustain the involvement of teams, drivers and circuits in the championship. Here’s a brief guide to where money goes in Formula 1.

Where the money goes in F1 (click to enlarge)
Where the money goes in F1 (click to enlarge)

This diagram shows how money is exchanged between the major interests in F1. Here’s a basic explanation of each:


This one is pretty straightforward. We don’t make money out of F1, but it gets revenue from us in the form of ticket sales (circuits) and merchandise (drivers and teams).


Depending on a driver’s status, he may be paid to race for a team or pay them to run him. The latter is increasingly rare in F1 these days, but it is common for a driver to bring sponsors to a team that may directly or indirectly finance his place in the squad.

And of course, the driver pay money to the FIA, in the form of those contentious superlicences. The FIA increased its revenue from superlicences fivefold by putting up the fees last year.


Where the teams get their money from – and how much of it they need – is central to one of the biggest debates in F1 at the moment, that being cost-cutting.

Some teams are blessed with manuacturer backing – but as car sales plunge the commitment of those manufacturers is being called into question. Others get money from wealthy benefactors, such as Red Bull’s Dietrich Mateschitz, or Force India’s Vijay Mallya.

Sponsorship is another crucial part of teams’ revenues – as Honda found out to their cost by not having enough.

The teams also receive money from Bernie Ecclestone. Although exactly how much they get is a closely guarded secret it is believed to be based on how long they have been in F1, and how successful they have been. A memorandum of understanding agreed last year arranged for 50% of the sport’s revenues to go to the teams, though this is far less than what is seen in many other professional sports.


The circuits’ income sources are complicated and some of them are represented by dotted lines here because not all circuits get their funding from the same places.

It is increasingly common for circuits to receive some amount of money from their governments, national or local. Although this is not just limited to Asian venues, circuits in the east generally get more state backing than their western counterparts. In 2007 the Bahraini government put ??35.7 (??32.1 / $45m) into its race (according to the Financial Times), the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring got around a third of that amount, and the British race none at all.

The Monaco Grand Prix is the only event on the calendar where the income from trackside signage during the event goes to the race promoters – otherwise it goes to Ecclestone’s pockets. Some tracks also get support from car manufacturers such as Fuji (Toyota) and Suzuka (Honda).


As well as getting money from the drivers in the form of licences, the FIA also receives fines. The same goes for teams and circuits but, as this is not a regular source of income for the governing body, I haven’t included it on the diagram.

The FIA also made money by selling the commercial rights to Formula 1 to Bernie Ecclestone. In 2000 it sold a 100-year lease on the rights for ??250 (??225m / $315m). But given the huge amounts of money F1 generates (Formula One Management has made over $1bn over the past two years), and the length of the lease, the price seems extremely low.

Bernie Ecclestone and CVC

This brings us to the centre of F1 finance – Bernie Ecclestone. He may only own a minority shareholding in F1 these days, since CVC Capital Partners (a private equity firm) having acquired over 70% of the operation since March 2006, but at 78 Ecclestone is still the man in charge.

He is responsible for ensuring F1 continues to deliver sufficient revenues to CVC to justify their purchase of the sport. That’swhy he’s not willing to offer more money to the teams, and has let the axe fall on races that are failing to deliver enough money (such as Montreal).

But is CVC’s ownership and Ecclestone’s management of F1 the best interests of the sport? On the face of it you have to question the wisdom of allowing so much money to flow away from those without which there would be no F1 – the teams and the circuits. This had led the likes of Mateschitz to suggest that F1 should be owned not by private equity but by the teams themselves.

To confirm how accurate that impression is I’m going to continue adding to and refining this model, bringing in details of how much money goes to which different party. If you want to contribute you can download an editable copy of the Money in F1 diagram from the F1 Fanatic drop.io.

More on money in F1

33 comments on “Where the money goes in F1”

  1. What happens when the goblin dies? Who gets his pot of gold?

    1. Tamara “i don’t know much about f1” Ecclestone I believe…

    2. Bernie Ecclestone
      8th August 2011, 12:14

      It’s not a goblin. It’s a leprechaun who waits at the end of the rainbow with the gold.

  2. Ah well at least she looks presentable.

  3. in america, all of the major team sports are controlled by the teams’ owners and an appointed commissioner. out of the 4 big ones, only american rules football (NFL) still insists that all owners are individuals or families. the rest are mostly corporate ownership now (and suffer for it, imo). is this dissimilar to many european and worldwide sports leagues?

    it is in everyone’s (but bernie and cvc) best interest to see f1 owned by the teams and sanctioned by the fia. unfortunately, this won’t happen for a number of reasons, not the least of which:

    a buyout of cvc’s control would cost a ridiculous amount

    how would the new ownership be structured? divided evenly among 10 teams, that’s 10% of the cost and 10% of the control for each. surely, some teams wouldn’t want to pay just as much as mcferrari, nor would mcferrari be satisfied by equality with the last row on the grid.

    keith, i dare you to make a chart showing the relationships between all of bernie’s holding companies and others within the “commercial rights holders” block.

    1. i forgot to mention, that picture of bernie is priceless!

    2. i dare you to make a chart showing the relationships between all of bernie’s holding companies and others within the “commercial rights holders” block.

      You wouldn’t hear much from me for a week!

    3. Trust me, even finding out what all the holding companies are is a feat in itself…

    4. F1Yankee, you are spot-on with the analysis of the management structures in American sports leagues. If you look at the NFL, not only do they do a great job of marketing and dealing with the fans, but perhaps most of all, the small market teams have just as much chance to be successful as the big-city clubs. As proof, Pittsburgh is one of the smallest markets to host an NFL franchise, yet the Steelers have now won more Super Bowls (six) than any other team in the 43-year history of the game.

      The one area where you do still see some family ownership outside the NFL is Major League Baseball- don’t forget how they snuffed out Mark Cuban’s interest in buying the Cubs in the last few years.

    5. correction:
      my reference to the “big 4” american sports is from another era:
      1. baseball
      2. us football
      3. basketball
      4. hockey

      american motorsports are not run by the teams. a more timely list would be:

      1. us football
      2. baseball
      3. tie basketball / nascar (dominated by the france family)
      5. college sports, including badminton and whatever
      6. hockey
      7. major league soccer (founded and controlled by NFL owners)

      i’m sure a thorough breakdown would show golf, tennis and others to get considerable tv time, they don’t drawn in 50k screaming fans every night.

      as for the reunified irl, i wouldn’t know how or where to score them. they are still fighting for survival, and about to be eclipsed by gt / lm cars (fine by me :D)

  4. But given the huge amounts of money F1 generates (Formula One Management has made over $1bn over the past two years), and the length of the lease, the price seems extremely low.

    agree. for comparison, NOW TV in Hong Kong paid around GPB100 mil for 3 years broadcasting rights for English Premier League …

  5. I didn’t know about the part that CVC played in this. This makes the terror dwarf look slightly less greedy.

    However, how much does CVC truly need to earn in order to stay in the investment? This comes to one of the major problems I have with how F1 is being run: transparency and accountability. There just seems to be none of the former from nor any of the latter for F1 management, for for the FIA’s governance of the sport, for that matter.

  6. Keith
    I am sure Mad Max has stated lots of times that the FIA is a non-profit organisation, and that all the money it makes from the Superlicences and the fines goes back into the silly ‘green’ campaigns and the more serious safety issues (when it isn’t handed straight to Ferrari). But is there proof of this? Can we find out how much is being spent by the FIA, and exactly what on?
    I also think that it would be quite simple for the FIA to declare FOM/CVC no longer capable of running the sport, and to allow the teams to create a new partnership instead. Bernie and CVC would be left with all their debts and no income. Problem solved!

    1. I wish this could be done ! too good to be true ….
      I would support an armed revolution to achieve this

  7. As a business model, the one outlined above clearly leaves a lot to be desired. But the problem comes when you try to work out how to get from where we are now to a better model – i.e. one that would provide more income to the teams while reducing the sanctioning fees paid by the circuits, which would reduce ticket prices.

    The presence of CVC and their need to service an enormous debt used to buy into F1 is the main issue, not what gets paid to Bernie and the FIA. It is this that creates the continuing need for Bernie to squeeze as much as reasonably possible from the sport, with the only constraint being not to completely strangle F1 (killing the goose that lays the golden eggs). But how can CVC be removed from the equation?

    It can be safely assumed that CVC would be extremely reluctant to simply give up the asset on which their debt is secured. It would be like giving away your house but still being saddled with an enormous mortgage.

    Any attempt to force CVC out of F1 (e.g. by declaring Bernie not competent to act as the Commercial Rights Holder) would be met with swift, brutal and probably successful legal action. After all, F1 continues to be a leading global sport so rather difficult to demonstrate incompetence on Bernie’s part.

    CVC would therefore need to be bought out of their stake in F1. The teams on their own would presumably be able to raise some money as a group, but the economic situation means that now is not a good time to do so. And besides, the sums involved would make it an awful lot of money to raise. A joint venture between the teams and Bernie is another possible, but the latter’s fortune appears to be mainly tied up in trust for his daughters. Besides, Bernie is currently going through divorce proceedings and will be keen to minimise his apparent wealth.

    The only other alternative would be a breakaway championship, which would cut Bernie and CVC out of the loop entirely. But that always presents the same old set of problems, i.e. would Ferrari sign up, who would sanction the races, who would host the races, who would provide television coverage, etc. There would still be something called “F1” run with a different set of teams and drivers – Max, Bernie and CVC would not simply give up their investment. The CART/IRL split in the USA showed that neither side benefits.

    And while a top level racing series not run by Bernie may appear attractive, there are some pretty horrific pitfalls if the manufacturers are in charge.

    1. The presence of CVC and their need to service an enormous debt used to buy into F1 is the main issue, not what gets paid to Bernie and the FIA. It is this that creates the continuing need for Bernie to squeeze as much as reasonably possible from the sport

      I agree that is what’s happening now – but it was also going on before CVC arrived on the scene!

  8. The structure of Formula One’s finances has many problems.

    The fact that FIA sold a 100 year lease on the rights for such a relatively small amount would suggest that the FIA are either incompetent or just wanted to give the rights to Ecclestone. A more sensible deal would only last 5-10 years tops.

    Also the finances for tracks just don’t make sense, they are charged massive fees for hosting a race and they don’t even get to keep track side signage revenue (except Monaco). While tickets should be a fair price for fans, circuits should be able to sell 80-90% of tickets over a GP weekend and break even, without the need for Government support.

    The way money is distributed to the teams isn’t fair either, I don’t like the idea of Ferrari getting millions more than any other team just for being Ferrari no matter what their performance in the championship.

    No matter what your views on Ecclestone’s handling of F1 the fact that he seemingly has no succession plan at the age of 78 is worrying.

    1. I wish he had NO succesion, and that after him there is an entirely different ownership-financial setup of F1 racing.
      But Bernie might live longer than Mathusalem

  9. I made a comment in this thread (I think it was the first one), and for some reason I don’t know, it doesn’t appear now despite I’ve saw it inserted after posted it!!

    Anyway, just another small question (just to be quite a lot a pain in the *** :-) ):

    don’t you think, keith, that the lines from FANS to TEAMS and DRIVERS should be printed with dots not with a full line, (from the moment FANS do not make any DIRECT payments to TEAMS and DRIVERS)?

    1. As I wrote in the article, they purchase merchandise, the profits from which go to the teams and drivers.

  10. No one will be buying out CVC. They will surrender the assets and their bankers will likely sell at best at book less 70% when they are eventually liquidated. Bernie is probably on the last lap of his workout money and has already written down his 30% expectations. So Bernie has already taken the silly money and run. You only get 1 set of mugs coming along like that in a lifetime. So said Kerry Packer when Alan Bond bought his prized channel 9 from him for a ridiculous amount. And so it is here. The stuff CVC bought at ridiculous multiples with their funny money balance sheet and the prices they paid …..

  11. graham228221
    3rd March 2009, 11:21

    the one thing i think you’ve forgotten is money from the fans to the sponsors.

    companies aren’t stupid, and they don’t just give out money like that without hoping to make a return (unless you’re RBS apparently).

    you could include something from the fans to governments, as again most government money is given to circuits in the hope that they will make a return.

    the only group that shouldn’t have any incoming arrows are the fans, as we gain in other ways =)

    1. I see your point, but trying to put a value on that would be difficult. I’ve been watching F1 20 years and I can’t remember when I ever thought “I’ll buy that brand of oil / mortgage / pack of cigarettes because they sponsor such-and-such”.

  12. Don’t the teams have to pay to FIA? I thought they have to pay an entrance fee too.

  13. Also the finances for tracks just don’t make sense, they are charged massive fees for hosting a race and they don’t even get to keep track side signage revenue (except Monaco).

    yes, except Monaco that (correct me if I am wrong) does not have to pay ANY fees to Bernie

  14. Great article and I look forward to the updates especially in terms of the money which we are all so keen to know more about.

    The FIA’s memorandum of understanding or articles of association or what ever guiding principals they have, should seriously consider a policy of whether all these conflicts of interest are to the benefit of the sport or not…

  15. In Other words Bernie owns the whole of formula 1 and wants to ‘rescue’ Honda from their ‘crisis’, to own even more of formula 1!!
    has he ever given any money to charity????

    1. He does an annual thing with the Great Ormond Street children’s hospital around the time of the British Grand Prix, I don’t know much of the details, but I think it involves bringing some of the kids to the race as VIP guests.

  16. If you dont like the man, why do you give him your money?

    1. Just because a person likes F1 doesn’t mean they like Bernie Ecclestone!

  17. This paragraph from Dieter Rencken’s latest Autosport article (subscription required) gives an insight into the level of complexity involved in F1 ownership – and the battles over it we are likely to see in the very near future:

    In fact, a source has suggested that FOTA will [on Thursday] insist upon representation on the board of Delta Topco, the company directly responsible for Formula One Management’s operations via the sort of byzantine structures typical of Ecclestone and CVC Partners, the latter being the vulture fund which controls approximately 60% of the lease on F1’s commercial rights. Demands for a greater say on the World Motor Sport Council – well up from the present single voice vested in Ferrari – cannot be excluded, either.

    1. obvious really….. or may be not.

  18. Another great article, Keith. And this is a good article on the murky & twisted ownership of F1 media rights: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formula_One_Group

    Bernie apparently NEVER had much interest in anything but lining his own pockets, even before the big debts he incurred over the years (note the breakdown of revenues in 1987 after Bernie dropped leadership in FOCA and ownership in Brabham like a hot potato to start up FOPA–49% for FOPA, 50% for FIA, and 1% for the teams.)

    I’ll let the brave-at-heart read for themselves the tangled mess that is the ownership of Delta Topco, and, ultimately, ownership of F! media rights for the next 100 years.

    I’m sure FIA is now regretting giving that deal to Bernie, as Delta Topco will have it long after Bernie is gone. It scares me that the media rights to a sport I know and love will, in the not-too-distant future, be totally controlled by a suit that cares only about the bottom line profit.

    Apparently, none of this concerns Bernie, either, only the next dollar he can wring from an already choked sport.

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